Volition and the readiness potential
Keywords:free will; consciousness; readiness potential; intention; action; volition
Deposited by:Prof. Gilberto Gomes
Date of Issue:1999
Journal/Publication Title:Journal of Consciousness Studies
Abstract:The readiness potential precedes voluntary acts by about half a second. According to Libet, free will does not initiate the neural process that leads to action but is able to control it. While disagreeing with many points of his interpretation of results, we should agree that voluntary acts are nonconsciously initiated. Voluntary acts are felt to have been determined by a conscious decision. This seems to be in conflict with the idea that all physical events are caused by other physical events. The idea of choice implies that one could have chosen to do something different. However, we can consider choice, decision and action as part of the natural world. All we need to assume is a decision system that can represent actions before their performance and select them according to its internal state. Free will is not an illusion because free acts are not caused by external factors. From the first-person perspective, I am the cause of my actions. But what am I? According to compatibilism, the free agent is a brain system capable of choice, decision and action. The readiness potential will be seen as an expression of the workings of this free agent itself. We should distinguish the intention to act at some time in the future, the intention to act now and the irrevocable decision to act now. These are discussed in relation to consciousness. A distinction is also proposed between deliberate and non-deliberate voluntary actions. A testable empirical prediction is that the RP should be longer in the case of deliberate actions. If one says that the subject could have chosen to do otherwise even if all the preceding physical events had been the same, one is begging the question against the hypothesis that the subject itself is a physical system. The subject must be able to consider this possibility before the final decision to act. We conclude that only what we have called deliberate acts should be considered as really free.